What is self-care?
Any action - or non-action - which contributes to the maintenance or improvement of your overall well-being can be considered an act of self-care. You may have heard a saying or two that could bring this to mind, such as: you can’t pour from an empty cup, or perhaps something more evocative, like: don’t set yourself on fire to keep somebody else warm.
Both sentiments call to a need many of us have in our lives to slow down, take stock, and turn our energies inward before we can safely turn them outward again. In a world in which pressures and stresses can seem to build and build, and as mental health challenges reach record levels, the practice of self-care is more needed than ever.
So how exactly do we do it?
The specifics of self-care will look different for each person. One helpful practice is to build a toolbox full of strategies and techniques in order to address our own personal, unique needs for self-care. Some examples are listed below.
First we need to make sure we have all of our bases covered. Think of this as the toolbox itself. It holds all of our gadgets inside and separates them into the proper drawers to make sure we have the right tool for the right situation.
This could look multiple different ways. One example is the indigenous medicine wheel, a circle divided into four parts, each part representing a different aspect of ourselves: body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
Other options exist for framework - you might choose to focus on body, mind, and soul or body, mind, and social. Your framework could be separated into intellectual, physical, and emotional. Choose one that works best for you, and then start separating the different techniques below into their proper place.
Techniques for Self-Care
Let’s use the example of the medicine wheel for a holistic approach to self-care. Inside your wheel, write down (or creatively express however you wish) different actions or non-actions that you believe will contribute to your well-being. Try to match up the actions with their corresponding aspect - body, mind, emotion, or spirit - but also be aware that many of them could end up overlapping and affecting more than one part of the wheel. This is normal. Self-care actions tend to feed into each other and touch all aspects of our lives.
Joe, a sensitive and neurodivergent man who deals with depression and anxiety, is stressed out by work. He constructs his medicine wheel as follows:
● Yin yoga or gentle stretching
● Healthy diet
● No sugar, caffeine, or alcohol
● No strenuous or stressful activity after 6pm
● Conversation with like-minded people
● Creative projects (writing, drawing, music)
● Puzzles or board games
● No work after 5pm, including emails or phone calls, and no work before 9am
● Quality time with loved ones and/or animals
● Listening to music
● Self-compassion practices
● Venting to a trusted friend
● Healthy diet (blood sugar fluctuations make Joe’s anxiety and depression worse)
● Saying no when he doesn’t want to do something
● No screens after 8pm
● Time alone to reflect and rest
● Meditation or prayer
● Walks in nature
● Community engagement
● Community service
● Helping others when able
These are just examples for Joe, but hopefully they will give you some inspiration and help you to develop your own framework and techniques for self-care. Start small - choose a framework from above, and start with one act of self-care in one section. See if you can follow through on that action a set number of times throughout a week - even if it’s only once.
From there, begin adding different techniques to your framework. Before long, you’ll have a toolbox full of ideas to help you de-stress and reconnect with yourself. Just remember that they’re tools - they’re not there to taunt you or make you feel like you should be doing them. They’re just there to help out when you need it!
You are the master of your toolbox. You get to decide what goes in it, and what tool is right for the job.